Rhiannon Giddens and Dirk Powell – Masters in Collaboration at Irish Arts Center

How it’s New York: At the Irish Arts Center in New York
How it’s Irish:  Presented by the Irish Arts Center and featuring Rhiannon Giddens who now lives in Ireland

Photo courtesy of Anthony Mulcahy – Mulography

Now in its 12th season at the Irish Arts Center, Saturday night brought a magical presentation from singer, historical banjo and fiddle master Rhiannon Giddens and multi-instrumentalist and singer Dirk Powell.  This series gives a peek inside the creative process of artists collaborating to bring new work to their audience.  A truly intimate and organic process, this evening showed the many insights, talents and inspirations of both performer.

I was very excited for this event, having only heard Rhiannon Giddens amazing voice and playing skills on television and online.  It was an awesome experience to be in the room and watch the creative mastery and emotion that she brings to her work.

Long a student and champion of the early African-American musical genres from the South, Giddens brings a wealth of knowledge and a fire in her belly that comes through in her singing.  A number of the songs they performed over the evening came from a current project on the Massacre in Wilmington, North Carolina of 1898.  A very sad event wherein the KKK was allowed to overthrow a fusionist  African-American party in an election, giving them the ability to replace all the local politicians with their hand-picked candidates.

The song selections included many from their recent release together, Freedom Highway and some written as recently as the day of the show.

Dirk Powell played a lovely Creole waltz Bon Soir Moreau that he learned from the playing of Cajun accordion player Amédé Ardoin.

With Powell switching to piano, they played a new song called Lament for Francisco’s a restaurant they searched for on a recent trip to New York, only to find it had closed just a few weeks before they arrived.  This was during the time that they were in town while Rhiannon was auditioning to replace Audra McDonald in “Shuffle Along” on Broadway.  A job, which she got, but the show closed before she had a chance to go on in the part.  Something that she referred to a number of times throughout the show, but which allowed her to fly out to LA when she received a call to screen test for the TV show Nashville, where she did end up playing the part of Hanna Lee “Hallie” Jordan for 2 seasons, singing some of the songs she has been writing with Powell.

The newest song they performed was a haunting tale of an African-American woman who has to act as her husband’s housekeeper so that they won’t get found out.  The imagery of the song is of the woman striving to make everything white, the floors, the dishes, the laundry, echoing her own wish for an easier life, had she been white.

The final song of the first half was an almost operatic tale, written in the style of the late 1800s, about the wife of an African-American newspaper man, bemoaning the loss of her husband and the business in a fire set to stop the paper which was informing the African-American community.

Part 2 of the evening they dubbed as “Songs in the key of…”  It included homages to Sarah Vaughan, Alberta Hunter, Aretha Franklin and Dolly Parton, with Giddens slipping into each of their singing styles like a comfortable pair of shoes.  The most hilarious of this set was with the song in the key of Dolly Parton which referred to a woman telling her man, “if you don’t know how good you have it, you better get out my kitchen!”

Throughout the evening Giddens moved seamlessly from her original Negro banjo, to the modern banjo, fiddle and Powell from guitar to banjo, accordion and piano.  Their vocal harmonies blended deftly with each other and their repartee shows the comfort of people who have been collaborating for a long time

Photo courtesy of Anthony Mulcahy -Mulography

They finished off the evening with We Could Fly and the iconic Julie, from the Freedom Highway record.  Julie, the tale of a slave woman and her master watching the soldiers coming to get them during a civil war battle was one of the most heart-wrenching of the night.  Giddens truly let down all her defenses and channeled the spirit of the women in these making them vividly appear in front of us.

The entire night was a wonderful conversation between the two musicians, sharing the inspiration behind their songs and the process they have gone through in creating them.  Thanks to the IAC for bringing them to us, and please bring them back again!

Checkout all the wonderful events in the current Irish Arts Center Season here: http://irishartscenter.org/whats-on

Remembering The Cranberries’ Dolores O’Riordan: Portrait of a Lady


How it’s New York: The Cranberries defined a certain kind of Indie sound beloved by alternative-music-loving New Yorkers.  The Cranberries are still a staple on New York radio with such hits as “Linger,” “When You’re Gone,” and “Zombie.”
How it’s Irish: Dolores O’Riordan, of the Cranberries, was Irish, as were the rest of the band, formed in Limerick in 1989. Members were Niall Quinn, guitarist Noel Hogan, bassist Mike Hogan, and drummer Fergal Lawler. O’Riordan replaced Quinn in 1990.

Dolores O’Riordan died suddenly at age 46 on Jan. 15, 2018.

Johnny Cash’s passing  in 2003 saddened us, of course it did.

He had, however, walked his line and worn his black. He’d burned, burned, burned, and traveled a long road. He’d faced his enemies, and climbed aboard that train he heard a-comin’, alongside other legends that went before him, Ray, Bing, Duke, Ella, Frank, icons all, who’d served their time, earned their praise and deserved their plaudits.

David Bowie’s shocked us, though 69, and having been ill for some time, he’d outlasted so many of his contemporaries, Jim, Jimi, Janis, Freddie, Marc, John, Brian, George, and younger artists, whom he may well have influenced, Kurt, Amy and George. There were those who lived publicly, and often dangerously, Sid, Phil, Keith, Judy, Frankie and the Tims, whose passings saddened, but didn’t truly shock us. Illnesses, gunshots, overdoses, murders, accidents, they’ve all combined to rob us, whether prematurely or not, of the voices we grew up with, listened, tapped feet, banged heads and shaken hips to.

Those whom we raised glasses to, eyebrows at and children with.

Then there’s Dolores. Poor Dolores.

At a mere 46 years of age, Dolores O’Riordan, vocalist, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist with The Cranberries, one of the biggest selling acts in the world, during their heyday, left us on Jan.15. Although the cause of death had not been confirmed at the time of writing, it matters little.


Ballyturk is darkly funny

How it’s New York: St Ann’s Warehouse, in Dumbo (a section of Brooklyn) consistently is one of the edgiest NY Theatres.

Tadhg Murphy and Mikel Murfi in “Ballyturk.” ©Teddy Wolff

How it’s Irish: Enda Walsh and most of the cast and design crew are Irish.

“Ballyturk” plays at St. Ann’s Warehouse through Jan. 28

It’s always a magical experience to head under the Brooklyn Bridge and tread those cobblestone streets to get to St. Ann’s Warehouse in Dumbo. But add Enda Walsh’s work to the stage and it truly becomes a night to remember.

The brilliance of some art is that it leaves a myriad of imprints on its audience. I overheard a variety of interpretations of the play as we left the theater on Saturday night, none of which bore any resemblance to my own and all of which were different. Listening to an interview with Walsh and Susan Feldman the artistic director of St. Ann’s Warehouse subsequently, Walsh confirmed that it was in fact his intention for the audience to make it their own.

For me “Ballyturk” is part farce, part human tragedy and part  psychological exploration. A pretty good trifecta for your buck.

I first saw Walsh’s work in Galway in 2006. “The Walworth Farce” – not too dissimilar to “Ballyturk” in many facets – opened there at the Galway International Arts Festival (GIAF). Walsh considers Galway people his core audience he relayed in the interview, which was moderated by with GIAF Artistic Director, Paul Fahy. Walsh feels they are more comfortable with the surreal than other audiences. I agree – a bit of magic and mystery is never too far away from Galwegian psyche.


“The Dead, 1904” is agonizingly beautiful

How it’s New York: This immersive theater adaptation of James Joyce’s novella, “The Dead” takes place at The American Irish

Photos by Carol Melissa.

Historical Society at 991 5th Ave, New York, New York.
How it’s Irish: Another stunning production from The Irish Repertory Theater.

This Christmas production began last year and continued through this one. It sells out fast, so we hope this will give you some ideas for next year: this review came in at the very end of the run.


“The Dead, 1904,” based on James Joyce’s novella, portrays an Ireland haunted and paralyzed by its past. Adapted by Paul Muldoon and Jean Hanff Korelitz, the play is in its second seasonal year at the Irish American Historical Society. Director Ciaran O’Reilly’s original and innovative staging brings to vivid life an evening of musical entertainment hosted by the elderly Morkan sisters (Patricia Kilgarriff and Patti Perkins) in their Dublin home for their annual epiphany festivities. As their guests, the audience joins in the merriment, and is lead through toasting, singing, dancing, and poetry and finally to a feast. Dinner, inspired by the holiday fare described by Joyce, includes marinated beef tenderloin, ‘floury’ potatoes and cranberry and pineapple relish, served on fine china and accompanied by wine in crystal glasses.


Mercy Centre Benefit Concert with Donie Carroll and Friends

How it’s New York: at the New York Irish Center in Long Island City
How it’s Irish: Irish singer Donie Carroll and friends raise funds for the Mercy Centre orphanage in Thailand

Last week at the New York Irish Center local Cork transplant Donie Carroll brought together  a host of Irish and area talent to raise money in his annual concert for the Mercy Centre Orphanage in Bangkok Thailand.  I’ve been to this concert over the past few years and it is always a treat.

Featured in the show were Donie’s longtime cohort in supporting the Mercy Centre , multi-instrumentalist and singer Mick Moloney, joined by a trio of lovely fiddlers, Liz Hanley, Heather Bixler and Haley Richardson.


Liam O’Maonlai and Xavier Cardriche at LIC Bar

How it’s New York: at LIC Bar in Long Island City, New York
How it’s Irish: Irish singer and pianist Liam O’Maonlai

Monday night, in an intimate back room at this Long Island City music bar, there was a flurry of song and spirit swirling around one of my favorite Irish singers, Liam O’Maonlai, and his opening act, the talented Brooklyn singer/songwriter Xavier Cardriche.  Brick walls, a soft fire and a small but very intent crowd of music lovers filled the room with a warm glow.


There’s a RIOT on the way!

How it’s New York:  Happened this week in New York City
How it’s Irish: Talk with Irish Theatre company ThisPopBaby and Panti Bliss about upcoming tour of their show RIOT

RIOT. photo by Conor Horgan for THISISPOPBABY

This past Tuesday the Irish Arts Center hosted a talk with the creators and star of the upcoming show RIOT from the Dublin Theatre company THISPOPBABY.  The brainchild of Jennifer Jennings and Phillip McMahon, who are collectively THISPOPBABY, and starring the one and only Panti Bliss (aka Rory O’Neill), they came to share the origins of the show and a bit about their collective theatrical paths.  The show will be playing 3 nights in February 2018 at the NYU Skirball Center, and tickets are going fast!

Founded in 2007 during their days of club-hopping, Jennings and McMahon began

Dublin, and Ireland itself, is changing and they want to present something that shows the tides of the times. 

THISPOPBABY to present theatrical pieces in club settings.  Eventually they went on to present more elaborate pieces in tents at popular music festivals, widening their audiences and allowing them the draw to be able to present in theatres.  RIOT is the ultimate culmination of these efforts and played sold out runs at the Spiegeltent and Vicar Street in Dublin last year to great critical acclaim.

I’ve met Philly McMahon a number of times with Panti over the past few years, and he has been the co-writer and director of her show “High Heels in Low Places“, hence Panti’s involvement as the Ring Leader in this new show.

They talked a bit about the formation of that show and how a lot of it was shaped by the after-math of Panti-gate and the Marriage Referndum campaign. (more…)

Karl Geary – Montpelier Parade Launch at the Irish Arts Center

How it’s New York: In New York at the Irish Arts Center
How it’s Irish: Irish writer Karl Geary launches his first Novel Montpelier Parade.

Karl Geary reading from Montpelier Parade at the Irish Arts Center – photo by Andy Ryan

He has crafted a compelling story of longing, love, loss and isolation with vivid characters and a driving narrative that made me not want to put the book down, and sad when I was finished reading.

What a delight it was to get the chance to hear my old East Village pal Karl Geary read this past Tuesday night at the Irish Arts Center!  It was yet another wonderful evening of collaboration put together by the innovative folks at the IAC, with Jenna Nicholls and Gerry Leonard providing musical counterpoint and an insightful conversation with Poet, Playwright and Actor Dael Orlandersmith.  I got a chance to sit down with Karl before the show and it was fantastic to get a further look inside the characters and inspirations behind this fantastic first book.



War Movies and Film Festivals

How It’s New York: Irish Screen America and New York Film Festival happen in New York City. Irish Rep’s Ciarán O’Reilly is in one of the shorts, and several of the directors live here.


How It’s Irish: “No Stone Unturned” is a film about the Troubles and New York Irish Shorts are made by Irish filmmakers

Last weekend was quite the film buff’s dream. Not only was Irish Film America hosting their annual film festival, but Lincoln Center’s New York Film Festival also opened. I was lucky enough to attend both in one day. Focused on Irish cinema, I began by seeing Alex Gibney’s “No Stone Unturned” at the Elinor Bunin Monroe film center. Described as a murder mystery in its title, going in I wasn’t sure if I was seeing a drama or a documentary, but it’s a murder mystery doc. (more…)

Dylan Moran’s Wit and Wisdom at Theater 80

How it’s New York: Theater 80 is in New York’s East Village
How it’s Irish: Dylan Moran was born and raised in Navan, Co. Meath

Dylan Moran ended a 4-night run at theater 80 in the East Village on Saturday night, which I was lucky enough to attend. In short, my body heaved with laughter, a sure sign of a successful performance.
His big themes were politics, family, middle-age, millennials, technology, and the past, with a scattering of comparisons between New York, England and his native Ireland. (more…)

Queens Gets A Film Fest – The Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema

How it’s New York: The movie extravaganza took place in Queens
How it’s Irish: The fest featured films from the Celtic Nations including Canada and The UK



Earlier this month, Queens played host to the inaugural Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema. The Fest, which ran from August 4th-13th, screened over 150 features and shorts at the Queens Museum and Kew Gardens Cinemas, which is the borough’s only operating art-house theatre. There were free panels as well on subjects such as Women in Independent Film and The Dos and Don’ts of Distribution. With the Unisphere close by, it was fitting that the selections came from a veritable United Nations of countries like Canada, Romania, Pakistan, the UK and the US.

Although Ireland didn’t have anything in the fest, the Celtic Nations were well represented. I saw the Canadian feature “Grand Unified Theory”, which won Best Screenplay. In keeping wit the themed programming the organizers created for the fest – science and outer space were the theme for what I saw- was accompanied by a music video from the British band Jenny Got Famous called “Loneliest Hour”. The charming video is about an astronaut in a spaceship made entirely out of cardboard, which director Karl Dixon explained in a Q&A after, took three months to build. (more…)

‘Woody Sez’ will break your heart and lift your spirits

How it’s New York: “Woody Sez” takes place at Irish Repertory Theatre, one of the city’s best residential theatres. Guthrie

David M. Lutken plays Woody Guthrie in “Woody Sez.” ©Carol Rosegg.

influenced the Clancy Brothers and Christy Moore. Andy Irvine, of Planxty, has a wonderful song tribute to Guthrie in his “Never Tire of the Road.”
How it’s (Irish) Scottish: Woody Guthrie was of Scots descent, and his mother sang old ballads to him. The show has been performed at the Edinburgh Fringe and in Belfast.

Listen to our podcast with David M. Lutken here!

Somewhere during the thrilling performance of “Woody Sez” at Irish Rep I began to feel depressed.

When did the working man stop believing in unions? When did labor throw in with management? How did this happen? Would Guthrie, whose guitar had “this machine fights fascists” on it, be dismissed as “Antifa” today?

There has hardly been a rally this year that didn’t close (or open) with Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.” Maybe, like me, you learned the song in kindergarden (along with “If I Had a Hammer,” written by Pete Seeger, a long-time collaborator of Guthrie’s). Maybe you forgot this song was composed by a 20th-Century American.

Woody Guthrie (1912-1967), the subject of the devised musical byby David M. Lutken with Nick Corley and Darcie Deaville, Helen Jean Russell and Andy Teirstein, is considered the father of American folk-music. Rightly so. His music, which chronicled the Dust Bowl years in particular and fought Fascism, had an impact on not only folk singers but also rock singers.

“Woody Sez” at Irish Rep is already on my Top 10 list. It is one of the best shows of the year.

I know, the year’s not over. This show will not be edged out of Top 10. It will probably stay in Top 3. Hell, it may stay at the top.

It was meant to end in June, but it kept extending. It now will end on Sept. 10. You can still see it: hurry up!


Canada’s Genie Bouchard Comes To New York To Make Her World Team Tennis Debut

How it’s New York: World Team Tennis, which has a local team, The New York Empire, plays here
How it’s Irish: All the teams have players and coaches from a wide array of countries including Canada, Great Britain and the US.

For tennis enthusiasts looking for a fix between Wimbledon and the US Open, there is courtside action to be found locally thanks to Mylan World Team Tennis, co-founded by Billie Jean King in 1973. World Team Tennis is like the tennis equivalent of minor league baseball, and offers fans a relaxed evening of on-court action, contest giveaways, amusing mascots, trivia and a lot of music. Literally after every point the announcer played a few seconds from a vast array of songs.  Last week the big news was the arrival of Canadian Eugenie Bouchard who joined the home team, the New York Empire, coached by two-time Olympic gold medal winner Gigi Fernandez.

Genie Bouchard

New York Empire Team Members Neil Skupski, Kirsten Flipkens and Coach Gigi Fernandez

I attended last Friday night’s match at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing. There was a considerable amount of construction going on in preparation for the US Open at the end of August and the audience had intimate seats inside Court 17. The New York Empire faced off against the San Diego Aviators, the reigning champs. Along with Bouchard, the Empire, which is like a mini United Nations, included Americans Mardy Fish and Maria Sanchez, Brit Neal Skupski and Belgian Kirsten Flipkens.


This year’s tune: Catskills Irish Arts Week 2017

How it’s New York: Catskills Irish Arts Week takes place in East Durham, New York, and everybody in the Tri-State area comes

Kevin Crawford, Dylan Foley, David Doocey launch “The Drunken Gaugers” at The Blackthorn.

who can (and many from further away).
How it’s Irish: It’s a week of intensive Irish music, dance, and arts. Some teachers are Irish, some are Irish-American, all love their subject. And East Durham, we’re told, looks a bit like Ireland.

There’s always one.

One tune you hear everywhere you go, in the Catskills. The first summer I came it was “Pipe on the Hob.” One year it was “Brendan Tonra’s jig.”

This year I think there were two.

It’s usually a jig, but not always.  If you’re in a building with several classes in different rooms, say the Yellow Deli (the  restaurant with wonderful baked goods open all night during this week), you might hear strains of it floating down the hall as concertina and fiddlers and whistlers all pick it out.

This year, I thought, maybe there isn’t one. I’d been to a few sessions, a few “listening rooms” (close-up concerts by some of the amazing guests: Michael Rooney on harp with June McCormack on flute stand out– gorgeous stuff– her flute playing is clear and pure and what he does with a moving base line and complex chords somehow suggests Cape Breton piano and Burt Bacharach at the same time), and of course, the concerts held at the Michael J. Quill Center in the evening (before the sessions and listening room and CD launches).